9 years of Rana Plaza tragedy: Victims’ children find shelter, purpose at Orca Homes

Many of the children are still traumatized by the loss of their parents

Alamin Islam, now 14 years old, vividly remembers the day he was supposed to take lunch to his mother Fatema at the garment factory she worked at nine years ago.

“She was supposed to get her salary that day. After she ate lunch, we were going to go buy new books and clothes,” the teenager said. He had lost his father early in his childhood and lived with just his mother.

After Alamin took lunch to his mother on that fateful day, she sent him home as she would not be able to leave work early. Five minutes after he had returned home, a neighbour told him the factory building at Rana Plaza had collapsed.

“I immediately ran there and could not believe my eyes. The building I had seen just 20 minutes ago was completely destroyed. I sat in front of Rana Plaza and cried for two days,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

After two days, they found his mother’s body and he had to identify it. “Her body was crushed. If I stayed there a moment longer, I would have died with my mother.”

In 2016, Alamin’s uncle sent him to Orca Homes, an initiative of the Old Rajshahi Cadet Association (Orca), in the hope he would get a better life and an opportunity for higher education. He now studies in grade 8.

A total of 56 children, including Alamin, are living at Orca Homes shelters set up in Gaibandha and Chittagong. All of the children’s parents either died or were severely injured in the Rana Plaza disaster on April 24, 2013.

The first shelter in Chittagong opened in December 2014, and one in Gaibandha followed soon afterwards. The shelters also serve as schools.

There are currently 11 children at the shelter in Chittagong and 45 at the one in Gaibandha, according to Orca Director Jahidul Huq.

“With the help of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) funds, Orca manages all the costs of the children, including food, schooling and healthcare, at the home set up in a three-storey impressive building with adequate space for a playground, library and entertainment facilities,” he said.

According to Millat Mondol, a supervisor of the shelters, five of the children recently took admission tests for a cadet college. Four of the students will appear at the HSC examinations next year, while five took the SSC exam last year.

“Every child here has faced tough times. Even if there is comfort here, the pain of losing one's parents is lifelong for these children,” he said.

Zeba Akhter Brishty, who is studying in grade 9, was nine years old when she came to the shelter.

Her mother Anwara Begum’s kidney was damaged, and bones in her chest and legs were broken. Her father lost his leg in a truck accident.

She said: “When I first came here, I used to dream of working in defence. Now, I want to be a nurse.”

Sourav came to the shelter at the age of five and is now aged 14 years. He is studying in grade 7.

The teenager spoke of how he cried over losing his mother for a year and used to wake up screaming from his sleep. Nowadays, he fares much better.

Homes Committee Secretary Captain (retd) Zahanyar told Dhaka Tribune: “Orca set up a school, playground, and shelter in the style of Cadet Colleges in a huge space. Here, children will be supported till college. If they continue studying, they will be helped to go to university. We will also support them from Orca until they get jobs.”

He said the main goal was to make the children self-reliant so that they could lead a dignified life.

In addition to funds from the BGMEA, the homes are being run with financial support from ex-Rajshahi cadets.